Up on White Oak Place
Up on White Oak Place last night: a party for a magazine launch.
The winds were blowing. Buzzing flocks of valet parkers ran to grab cars as partygoers arrived.
A for-sale mansion had been rented, an ornate and preposterously rococo place, elaborate and overdone; sunk under the weight of marble, chandeliers, heavy furniture and cartoon grandeur.
The event celebrated a new publication that will cater to the top one percent of income in the San Fernando Valley and those whose world stretches along Ventura Boulevard and up into these hills.
A Casa de Cadillac Cadillac in red was parked on the driveway. Young and sexy girls in leggy dresses, bartenders carrying trays of wine, and opulent tables of food from various restaurants in the Valley, were sprinkled around the backyard pool.
At one cheese table, I was instructed to eat ginger with a stinky Italian and to place honeycombs atop a goat, and consume silver painted chocolate.
Another table was full of thimble-sized pies whose ingredients were too small for my middle aged eyes to discern.
Big poster boards printed with San Fernando Valley photographs and graphics kept blowing over as the gusts blew across the panoramic backyard and pool.
After my second or third glass of wine, my tongue was unhitched from head, and anything that came to mind I spoke.
An ad salesman told me that his typical reader lived in a mansion “just like this” and that his Facebook page already had “4,000 fans without any publicity”.
I talked with a sharp Italian born professor who teaches languages at CSUN. Tragically, she was imported from Milan to Porter Ranch where she has lived for half a century.
I went back into the house, detective and decorator, attempting to relate to the exotic style of furnishing inside.
In the dining room, a wide and tall glass fronted cabinet was filled and packed-like a rush-hour Tokyo subway- with Judaica: silver menorahs and tea sets, picture frames, glasses, engraved plates, silver Etrog holders, Kiddush cups, wine goblets. Three enormous black chandeliers danced satanically along the ceiling above onyx tinted granite countertops.
Near the center hallway, a heavy carved wooden desk presented the owner’s business cards for inspection, as if it were a hotel concierge conducting business. Multiple mezuzahs bedecked every interior door, bestowing blessings on bathrooms and bedrooms.
An enormous bathtub was surrounded by plastic bottles of Lubiderm which opened, without shame, to a stadium-sized bedroom where a leonine carved king-sized bed sat under a photographic portrait of a white-bearded Lubovitcher rebbe.
The house swung crazily between devoutness and decadence, minyan and orgy. Sadaam Hussein, Khaddafi, LL Cool J, Angelyne, Donald Trump: if they had collectively hired an architect, this is how it might have looked.
A small red room in the front was crammed full of more gold painted velvet baroque couches and chairs, pushed against the walls-like a Syrian police interrogation room- with a ghastly autographed, NBA orange basketball placed atop a pedestal for admiration….. or possibly worship.
The long wagon train of Jewish history had made its stops in Jerusalem, Tashkent, Tehran, Warsaw, Vienna, Tel Aviv; and finally stopped and unloaded 2,000 years of wares here on White Oak Place in Encino.
Back in the backyard, I struck up a conversation with a quiet tanned gentleman dressed in an exquisitely tailored Italian blazer.
He had removed himself from the crowd, and sat alone on a lower level of the patio, where he and his wine surveyed the San Fernando Valley.
He told me he had just purchased the jacket that day, in a Goodwill store in Sherman Oaks. He worked as a caregiver to his 93-year-old mother and in his spare time took photos. One of his nighttime photographs of Ventura Boulevard was published in the premiere issue.
I knew then and there that he was like me, a real person in a fake environment, an honest loser at a party celebrating winners, an unemployed man, like many, who had lived in California his whole life and dreamed of escape from the Golden State.
I challenged him to arm wrestle but he said he wouldn’t because he might beat me. He warned me about driving intoxicated. And then he got up and said good-bye.
I waited and sat alone, around the floodlit pool, as sobriety slowly returned. Below me were miles of twinkling lights. And the wind was strong, the air bracing and refreshing. And I was lost in my thoughts, cleansed, relaxed and free of worry, somewhere atop White Oak Place.